David Gordon’s list of four failing approaches to preaching includes the category of “Introspection.” Let’s hear some highlights (pp83-84):
Some of the neo-Puritans have apparently determined that the purpose and essence of Christian preaching is to persuade people that they do not, in fact, believe. …This brand of preaching constantly suggests that if a person does not always love attending church, always look forward to reading the Bible, or family worship, or prayer, then the person is probably not a believer. To the outsider, it appears patently curious to take an opportunity to promote faith as an opportunity to declare its nonexistence.
Since the sermon mentions Christ only in passing (if at all), the sermon says nothing about the adequacy of Christ as Redeemer, and therefore does nothing nourish or build faith in him. So true unbelievers are given nothing that might make believers of them, and many true believers are persuaded that they are not believers, and the consolations of Christian faith are taken from them.
It is absolutely debilitating to be told again and again that one does not have faith when one knows perfectly well that one does have faith, albeit weak and imperfect.
It is really hard to see any positive that comes from this kind of preaching. The bruised reed and smoldering wick do seem to get broken and snuffed out. The dead in sin are hardly offered life when the love of God is not offered as the vivifying affection. Even the self-righteous are only reinforced in their misbelief since they will always assume this message is for someone else.
The self-righteous like it too much; for them, religion makes them feel good about themselves, because it allows them to view themselves as the good guys and others as the bad guys – they love to hear the minister scold the bad guys each week. And sadly, the temperament of some ministers is simply officious. Scolding others is their life calling.
So, what can we suggest to preachers who find themselves being described in this post? I suppose the only solution is to fling yourself at the foot of the cross, read the Word for yourself and see your own brokenness and need. If you see brokenness in yourself, surely you see the need for others to be tended, to be cared for, to be shepherded, to be encouraged. If you see no brokenness in yourself, then perhaps you need the very gospel you are convinced nobody else really believes.